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Mass Shooting a Setback for Back of the Yards, Neighborhood Leaders Say

By Casey Cora | September 20, 2013 2:44pm
 A man walks his dog at the scene where 13 people were shot in Back of the Yards late Thursday night.
A man walks his dog at the scene where 13 people were shot in Back of the Yards late Thursday night.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

BACK OF THE YARDS — The summer of 2013 has been a banner season for this South Side community, filled with ribbon cuttings and the high-profile unveilings of a brand new high school and state of the art library, a planned new senior living facility and the debut of a neighborhood farmer’s market.

“Since the day I took over here part of our charge was to change the image of this community, that it’s violent and gang-ridden. In comparison to the nonviolent issues, about 98 percent of the things that go on here are good,” said Craig Chico, president of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, a civic and business development group.

“And then something like this happens. Thirteen people being shot in the park is horrific and it creates such a negative perception. The media, the world, reports that it happened in a Chicago park,” he said.

Thursday’s shooting wounded 13 people including a 3-year-old boy whose face was pierced by a bullet when gunfire from an assault-style rifle erupted on a basketball court at Cornell Square Park, located in the 1800 block of West 51st Street.

No arrests have been made, though Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Friday morning that investigators are interviewing people who could be linked to the shooting.

On Friday morning, black and yellow gang graffiti could be seen on buildings around the park. Gang symbols were etched into sidewalks, and residents said they were fearful of constant violence.

Neighbors in the working-class area surrounding the park say Thursday’s shooting was another example of senseless shootings that have plagued the neighborhood.

"No one cares if kids are around [when shootings occur]. They just want the person they want to get," said Jeremiah Bryant, a 27-year-old father of four who was shot in the neighborhood late last year. "They go after the 'don't snitch, don't tell' code. But you need to tell somebody what's going on. It's not right. You need to say something when everything's going wrong."

Keith Kysel, who has a 4-year-old daughter, said he complains frequently to CAPS officers that too many people drink and let their dogs run loose in Cornell Square Park.

"It's sad, but when I take her to parks, I have to first check who's there to see if there's gangs," Kysel, 48, said. "It's sad that that's what you have to do for your kid to play in the park."

At nearby Richard J. Daley Academy, parents said they signed a petition to have a Chicago police officer staffed at the school, 5024 S. Wolcott Ave.

Chico credited the police department’s violence reduction initiative, a tactic used by police to swarm high-crime areas, with significant decreases in shootings and homicides this summer.

But he said that’s of little consolation in the wake of Thursday’s shooting, which took place in an area in between police saturation zones.

“What about the mother that doesn’t want to let their kid now go to the park or ride their bike on the sidewalk? Now it’s going to take us a concerted effort to get us back to a good place,” he said.